January is a weird month for me. It always starts out slow because my clients are figuring out their needs for the year, but it always ends insanely busy because everyone is rushing to make up lost time from the holidays. I would assume this is how it is for most service-based entrepreneurs.
When I first started doing PR, I would dread January. The holidays are expensive, and if I am not working, then I am not making money. Now that I have been doing this for longer, I have learned a thing or two, and I am better equipped to make being a contractor less unpredictable.
What I have found to be the ultimate truth is you always must have more work than you need. I know, easier said than done. It can definitely be a struggle to keep your workload where you want it, so here are a few things to keep in mind:
Don't be afraid to suggest new ideas. If you think of something new that could help out a client, suggest it to them! Chances are if you come up with the idea, they will hire you to make it happen. For example, in PR, I always try to come up with new story ideas for clients. As soon as I come up with something solid, I make sure to let them know. More times than not, the PR firms that I work for hire me to send out the pitches that I come up with.
By taking the time to come up with fresh ideas, it shows that you are proactive. It also gives you a reason to check in.
Volunteer to help out the team. When you provide a service, you want to be known for being helpful and easy to work with. You have to learn how to be a team player. One of the best ways to do this is volunteering to take on projects. If you hear that your client is taking on something new, don't be afraid to offer your expertise, where it fits. You can't just wait for people to come to you. As a service-based entrepreneur, you really have to show that you are available for new work.
Never stop looking for new opportunities. As a new entrepreneur, this was something I had to learn very quickly. When you are busy with existing clients, new client outreach can fall through the cracks. That's fine -- until a project ends or falls through. We have all been there!
Make it a goal to schedule in new client outreach each week. This will help to ensure that you always have something coming down the pipeline.
Say "no" wisely. It can be difficult to turn down paying opportunities, but sometimes saying "no" will help you in the long run. If you agree to something in a moment of panic, it can be counterproductive and harm your relationships with your clients. Opportunities come up that sometimes aren't exactly a fit, and if you end up taking them on, it can be counterproductive. Those projects will take away time from the things you are truly good at, and if you don't properly deliver, clients won't be happy. Sometimes saying "no" in the short-term will pay off later on.
The author is an Entrepreneur contributor. The opinions expressed are those of the writer.
Rebekah Epstein is the founder of fifteen media, an agency that works exclusively with PR firms to get more media placements for their clients. She specialized in lifestyle, technology, healthcare and business. She also blogs about the ups and downs of gen-y entrepreneurship at NeonNotebook.